‘Common Law’: The Legal Battle Over Black Hair and Protective Hairstyles

Doriane Nguenang ’21 Discusses Her Scholarship on Title VII Litigation
Risa Goluboff, Cathy Hwang, Doriane Nguenang

Photo illustration by Warren Craghead, photos by Julia Davis and contributed

May 26, 2022

Black women facing discrimination for wearing their hair naturally have not been successful in the courts, pointing to the need for other solutions, a University of Virginia School of Law graduate explains on the latest episode of “Common Law.”

The UVA Law podcast’s ninth episode features Doriane Nguenang ’21, now a Baker McKenzie associate, and hosts Dean Risa Goluboff and Professor Cathy Hwang.

Nguenang wrote about employment litigation concerning hair in her student note for the Virginia Law Review, “Black Women's Hair and Natural Hairstyles in the Workplace.” As a law student, Nguenang also served as a research assistant for Hwang’s corporate law scholarship.

Nguenang, who is originally from Cameroon, noted she was surprised by the discrimination some women have faced in such cases, because she hails from a country where Black hair and natural hairstyles are the norm.

She and the hosts talk about how some of the litigation happened; the possibility for an expanded definition of Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin; and the CROWN Act — proposed legislation that would protect employees from race-based hair discrimination. They also talk about the benefits of protective hairstyles that keep ends tucked away, such as twists, braids, updos and wigs.

This season, called “Co-Counsel,” features a rotating set of co-hosts: Hwang, Danielle Citron, John Harrison and Greg Mitchell. Each is joining Goluboff to discuss cutting-edge research on law topics of their choice.

“Common Law” is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Spotify and other popular podcast sources. The show is produced by Emily Richardson-Lorente.

Past seasons have focused on “The Future of Law,” “When Law Changed the World” and “Law and Equity.”

You can follow the show on the website CommonLawPodcast.com or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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